Rock-cut architecture occupies a very important place in
the history of Maharashtra Architecture. This differs from 'building up'
in many important ways. Firstly, the art is more akin to sculpture than
architecture, in that a solid body of material (rock) is taken, the final
product visualized and cutting/carving starts.
Secondly, the mason is not overly concerned with spans, forces, beams, columns, and all the other architectural features - these can be carved, but are seldom playing any structural role. None of the regions where rock-cut architecture can be found - namely Egypt, Assyria, Persia and Greece - show as wide range of work or an audacious imagination as in the caves of Maharashtra such as the Kailash Temple at Ellora.
Master architects and builders of these cave temples, created them to they serve the ordinary needs of human beings such as a space to pray and worship or a crypt to serve as a final resting place. The unstated objective was to make the space resonate in a way that will make it glow with the perfection that comes when objects and structures of great quality are placed in perfectly matched surroundings. Elephanta and Ellora are best examples to illustrate the ideal.
first is Elephanta, a 6th century AD temple off the Maharashtra coast. The
seemingly effortless and tension-free shrine of Shiva Mahadeva at
Elephanta has been achieved by the removal of over half a million cubic
feet of rock in the 6th century AD when explosives were unknown to man.
The temple is dedicated to the worship of Shiva, the Mahadeva (great God;
Maha = great, Deva = God).
Situated on an eminence, the temple is approached by a huge flight of steep stairs, which wind around the hill. The top has been leveled and the temple carved out of living rock. Once on level land the visitor / devotee walks up to the steps leading to the sanctum through the courtyard and the porch.
The second is the Kailash (also spelt as Kailasha) temple at Ellora. Instead of carving down into the face of a cliff and creating underground halls, which had been the practice, the sculptors/architects set aside all convention and created a full temple, identical in every detail to a structural, 'built-up' example, by carving vertically down into the living rock. When one considers that the plan of the Kailash temple is fully equal in area to the Parthenon at Athens, and that it is one and a half times as high, some idea of the magnitude of the achievement comes through.